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Pension trustees: don’t be communication Luddites!

“Trustees lack expertise, time and resources to develop effective communications on technical pensions issues and need professional help…” That’s the opening to James Phillips’ Professional Pensions article on the British Steel review, and it is spot on.

I will do my best to avoid this turning into a rant.

Nowadays, a Luddite is taken to mean a person opposed to new technology. Originally, Luddites weren’t actually raging against the machines. They were worried the time they had taken to become experts in their trade (textiles) would be wasted. Both apply here.

Embracing new technology

Caroline Rookes’ British Steel review highlighted the need for trustees to embrace social media channels, like Facebook. She is spot on too.

It seems very few pension trustees ‘get’ digital communication - and especially not social media. Or, if they do as individuals, they really don’t in the pension scheme context. Not all people engage with hard copy, or with a PDF of what would have been a hard copy before we all decided printing and posting stuff just didn’t deliver ‘value for money’ (not necessarily always true, by the way). Not all pension scheme members are ‘old’. Not all old people are unengaged with technology and social media.

Social media is more powerful than many pension trustees know. In recent years, businesses have begun to realise social media chatter - whether positive or negative - can have a big impact on their business, sales and staff. Pension trustees need to realise this too - and use it to your advantage.

At a time when our combined savings ratio is lower than during the 3 day week in the 1970s, members really need to understand the value of saving and pensions. Very few members will read long boring looking documents, however well printed. By combining social media with a video, a complex message like this can be communicated more quickly and effectively.

Value communications expertise

I find it fascinating so many pension schemes fall back on standard communications produced by their administrator or actuarial consultant. If you were a pension trustee, would you ask your scheme administrator for investment advice or your lawyer for actuarial advice? No, you wouldn’t. So, why aren’t we getting expert help from communications professionals more often?

One of the main reasons I found my own career move from actuarial consultant to communications consultant is because it was plain to see, clever and vital as actuaries are, they aren’t always the clearest communicators. I wanted to take all this teccy and compliance stuff and turn it into something the everyday person could actually understand. Explaining how much I learnt in that journey from one area of expertise to another can wait for another day’s blog.

I know some of the ‘standard’ communications produced by other scheme advisers are reasonable (and sometimes good), but that is far from universal. Today’s scheme members deserve (and will soon demand) better. Caroline Rookes raises the need for pension trustees to get professional help with communications. I hope that is taken on board.

This isn’t something just for ‘big’ pension schemes. Yes, larger schemes may have been able to embrace different communication methods more readily in the past. Good, varied communication doesn’t have to be expensive - that’s often the beauty of digital technology. Everyone can use it now!

So, please, please, please be more diverse in the mix of communication methods you use. You (and your pension scheme members) will be pleased you did.



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